Realizing that hamsters have different range of senses than humans is a large part of treating your hamster well. Some of the limitations or amplitude of your hamster’s senses will affect his behavior, and if you understand this, you will not be puzzled or frustrated by your pet’s behavior. It can also keep your hamster safe.
Eyesight: The hamster has very poor eyesight. Hamsters are born blind and as adults a hamster is only able to see a few inches in front of his nose. This makes them unable to tell when they are in danger of falling, because they cannot see that far. For this reason, cages with many levels are not encouraged. Hamsters cannot tell when the floor drops off and they can fall from an upper level. This can cause broken bones, internal injuries and even death. It also means that you should not let your pet perch on your shoulder or hold him while you are standing – again, they can fall or leap to a tragic injury or death. The best thing to do is to be careful and help prevent these types of injuries and spare your pet the pain and suffering.
Hearing: In order to make up for their poor eyesight, hamsters have an extraordinary sense of hearing. They can hear and communicate with each other using frequencies that humans cannot hear. Hamsters will often freeze when they hear an unusual sound, then sometimes sniff the air for more information. Because a hamster has such keen hearing, you must speak softly to your pet and make sure your hamster is not kept in a noisy area of the house. Do not allow other pets to make loud noises around your pet. Barking dogs, in particular, can cause extreme stress for your hamster. Children should be taught not to be loud or squeal around your hamster, as well.
Hamsters have delicate ears that can easily tear. Be sure to be gentle with your pet’s ears, and make sure they are not injured in fights with other hamsters.
Smell: Your hamster uses his sense of smell to recognize other hamsters, tell whether a hamster is male or female, find food, and also detect pheromones in hamster social situations. Hamsters actually communicate with each other with pheromones (chemicals that are secreted from the body). Male and female Syrian hamsters mark their territory with scent glands that are located on their hips. Sometimes the fur around these glands are a slightly different color.
Because their sense of smell is so keen, make sure your hands are clean when handling your pet. Scents on your hands can either make your pet agitated or want to nibble you. (Hand washing before and after handling your hamster also helps prevent the spread of disease, as well.)
Do not allow cats to lounge upon the housing area of your hamster, either. The scent of the cat can cause stress for your hamster.
As a general rule to remember, the eyesight of your hamster is poor, and his other senses are more enhanced in order to compensate.